Offensive tweak creates space, freedom for Dedric Lawson and Jayhawks
Something out of the ordinary happened to the best player on the Kansas basketball team. And it was so surprising that it didn’t even register for junior Dedric Lawson until after the fact.
“I really didn’t get double-teamed today, did I?” Lawson interjected during one point of his postgame interview on Saturday.
After seeing what felt like nothing but the long arms and large frames of multiple defenders when the ball reached his hands of late, Lawson got to operate much more freely in the Jayhawks’ 79-63 home victory over Texas Tech, thanks to a tweak that benefited not only the redshirt junior forward, but also the rest of his teammates.
After scoring in the low 60s in three of the previous four games, and losing on the road each time the point total landed in that range, something had to change for KU’s offense.
So Bill Self and his coaching staff decided to stop using the one big man in the Jayhawks’ four-guard lineup like a traditional low-post player. Lawson, after all, isn’t as comfortable backing a defender down as he is facing one up. You wouldn’t ask Udoka Azubuike to play on the perimeter. So why keep Lawson down on the blocks?
The 6-foot-9 forward from Memphis, Tenn., was able to play at ease most of the game versus the Red Raiders, in part because the visitors couldn’t constantly send double-teams at him inside.
When the Jayhawks headed to the locker room at halftime up 20 points, it occurred to the versatile Lawson that he hadn’t posted up once.
“That’s something that was a little different to the offense that coach changed,” Lawson said of a strategy that also kept him popping out more off of certain actions instead of rolling to the paint.
Lawson thought the new look helped the four guards around him, too. Without Lawson and the man trying to defend him always down near the basket, the floor opened up significantly.
“We can start making those shots and maybe they’ll get easy layups and things like that,” Lawson said. “The offense will flow more smoothly.”
It definitely did versus Tech. With space for KU’s guards to drive and create, not only did the Jayhawks (17-5 overall, 6-3 Big 12) knock down a season-high 13 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, they also scored 26 points in the paint.
On his way to 25 points and 10 rebounds, his 15th double-double of the season, Lawson scored 12 of his points around the rim and picked up another 9 by knocking in all three of his 3-point attempts — each one coming from the top of the key in the first half. It was the fourth time in the past eight games that Lawson made at least two from deep.
Self acknowledged after the win that it was important for KU to give Lawson room to breathe and operate. The talented big man saw so many double-teams, especially during the Jayhawks’ losses at Kentucky and Texas, as Lawson shot a combined 11-for-33, that the offense couldn’t afford to keep making it so easy for defenses to put Lawson at a disadvantage.
“He shot it so much better from 3 of late, even going back to the Kentucky game,” Self said. “So I think getting him in space where he doesn’t feel like he’s getting leaned on and laid on the whole time is going to be important for us moving forward.”
KU began practicing with its modified offense on Thursday, and Lawson said it didn’t take long for it to look and feel good.
“The ball’s moving,” Lawson said of perhaps the most important improvement, along with the paint not getting clogged up. “Giving guys more of an opportunity to be aggressive.”
Those assertive plays from guards often made things easier for Lawson, too. Lagerald Vick, Ochai Agbaji and Quentin Grimes each assisted on a Lawson layup in the win, and Grimes fed the big man for a bucket on two occasions.
Freshman point guard Devon Dotson made the most of KU’s spacing and flow, too, scoring a career-high 20 points and dishing four assists.
As the Jayhawks head into the final half of the Big 12 schedule, they have a different offensive approach that could end up keying a run toward yet another conference title.
“This is a totally different team than last year playing four out,” Self said while discussing his latest offensive adaptation. “Our chance to score inside is totally different this year than last year. Last year, we had more guys that could play behind a bad closeout and things like that, to force some things.”
The Jayhawks don’t have those types of guards anymore. But they may have finally found a way to play effective offense without knockdown shooters and a veteran-filled backcourt.
“Put it in Dedric and Devon’s hands as much as possible,” Self said, “and try to get Lagerald a shot in early clock is probably our best way to play. And, hopefully, that’ll be good for us moving forward, as well.”